Children being exposed to a certain level of risk is not always seen as a bad thing in the Nordics; exposure can give children the tools to deal with risk and help them to become resilient and independent. The attitude of caregivers, teachers and children in the Nordics to online risk also reflects this approach - while elsewhere in the world a more stringent view is often taken. How we tackle children’s online lives and behaviours is rather complex and is influenced by the cultural norms of where you live, the role of schools, as well as how policymakers and classification institutions decide to regulate in the area.
This podcast addresses everything to do with children's online behaviour, taking Norway and a range of other Nordic and non-Nordic countries as examples. On the way, it answers the following questions:
- Is screen time harmful per se?
- How do we protect children from online harm?
- How has Covid-19 and online teaching affected children’s online lives?
- And what approaches are prevalent in the Nordic countries?
Join the editor of nordics.info, Nicola Witcombe, on her virtual visit around the Nordic countries, this time to Elisabeth Staksrud, Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo to discover the answer to these questions.
This podcast was recorded in February 2021 and is the third in the series: The Nordics Uncovered: Critical Voices from the Region. The fourth in the series is an interview with Gunnþórunn Guðmundsdóttir, Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Iceland. She will be talking about Icelandic literature, Nordic Noir and how writers and cultural commentators frame the past - and how they help people to digest global crises.
Sound credits from freesound.org including mechanical keyboard sound by TolerableDruid6.
Media content and how we approach and how we approach risk in terms of children is extremely culturally dependent. Child rearing practices in the Nordic countries is different because we try to give the children tools, which means that when they encounter risk, also media related risk, they should know what to do. Or we talk to them about these potential risks, while in other regions and other countries, a larger proportion of parents would, for instance, do what we call technical or restricted mediation you know, monitoring tools while Nordic parents, we're not so keen on that.Nicola Witcombe:
That was the voice of Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Oslo University Elisabeth Staksrud, my third guest in this Nordics.info podcast series, "The Nordics Uncovered: critical voices from the region". And she is going to help me find out the answers to questions like, "is screentime harmful per se?", "how do we protect children from online harm?", "how has COVID-19 and online teaching affected children's lives?" and "how does culture and geography influence our approach?" And as you just heard, "what approaches are prevalent in the Nordic countries?" My name is Nicola Witcombe. And I'm editor of Nordics.info. And a normal part of my job is to travel to universities and conferences, to meet researchers and to encourage them to spread the word about their research to a wider audience. In these COVID times, I am virtually visiting 12 researchers based in six different countries to try to find the answer to questions like "what is the state of the Nordics today?" And "how do researchers investigate Nordic concepts and societies?". This interview was recorded in February 2021, when I caught up with Elisabeth over Zoom. So, Professor Elisabeth Straksrud, thanks very much for being here today.Elisabeth Staksrud:
Thank you for having me. I'm really, really excited to be here.Nicola Witcombe:
Great. Well, to start with, could you please explain what areas of research you focused on?Elisabeth Staksrud:
I focus on freedom of expression and in particular censorship issues. So media censorship and censorship practices online, is of interest in how we regulate and think about regulation of media content. And then I do a lot of research related to children and online risk and how we think about risk, but also how it plays out in real life. And then finally, I also and I think this is something that comes out of working with children and youth a lot and working with internet research, you get into all these kinds of ethical dilemmas, like how to collect data. So I also do research in and work a lot with research ethics.Nicola Witcombe:
When you talk about risk, you also appear to have written about law?Elisabeth Staksrud:
I'm interested in media risk and how we as societies think about and fear online or media risk and how we seek to regulate it. And I'm interested in the legitimacy of regulation. So if we decide to say that some types of content or some types of interaction is not good, or should be illegal, or should only be for people above a certain age, I like those dilemmas. I like to ask the hard questions where the uncomfortable questions if, if this is legitimate, so I'm interested in freedom of expression, and rights and I'm interested in children's rights and if it is legitimate that we seek to, for instance, regulate or discriminate, depending on how you see it, certain members of society based on their biological age only.Nicola Witcombe:
Okay, that's great. So perhaps you could mention one research project that you're working on at the current time, which is of particular interest?Elisabeth Staksrud:
EU Kids Online, it's a collaboration between European researchers from most European countries. I think we're over 150 researchers, and I've been in the management group for this project since the very start. And what we're trying to do is to understand how children and youth use and the benefits and the challenges of digital media. And we've done several comparative statistical studies across countries. And I think that's what really makes it fascinating because you have this perspective about your own country or how things are. But it's not really until you can see your story. And for me, statistics is all about stories. So you can see your story, and then you can see it in relation to other countries stories and other types of groups. And then you realize that maybe what you thought was the story is something different. And I think one of the things that we saw, we did a huge survey in in 2011. And then we saw that, for instance, parental strategies in terms of how you relate to your children, and how you think about them in terms of media, how you mediate them, and if you are restrictive, or try to control their media use, or if you talk to them and do what we call active mediation. These strategies differs between regions in Europe and between countries. And the Nordic countries, along with Netherlands stood out as a sort of separate group, where parents are approaching their children differently. They have different mediation strategies, different child rearing practices, and the children are also behaving slightly differently. So I find that fascinating. And that brought on this idea that if there is something called the Nordic model, this is of course, contested, is there something called the Nordic model?, but if it is, maybe the place to find it is precisely in what goes on and what values and our child rearing practices, because that is where those values will be transferred, and cultivated and sustained through the next generation. So that was sort of why we thought it would be a good idea to also look at the children and youth perspective, in relation to the Nordic model.Nicola Witcombe:
You refer to the child rearing practices and the children's behavior being different in the Nordics. Can you remember some of the details around those compared to I don't know, compared to the southern Mediterranean countries or whatever other groupings that you found in the in the data?Elisabeth Staksrud:
For me, one of the helpful entry points in explaining these differences has actually been to go to another study, which is the World Value Survey, which is a big study, which has gone on for years, and which investigates different values across the world. And one of the questions there has to do with child rearing practices, where there's a question where you ask parents across the world, "what is what do you think is most important, you know, to look to teach your child?", I don't remember the exact form, but it's in that direction. And when I looked at this, I found it both fascinating but also it made sense to me that in most countries, almost every country, the most important child rearing practices, which is mentioned by most parents in that country, is that it's important to teach my child to be respectful towards elders. And coming from Norway, but I will say was a shock. And that for me, sort of the core of the Nordic because when I saw that, I was like "what?!", and then I looked and thought I have to check what the Norwegian parents said, and, you know, and then I realized, not just Norwegians, but also the Swedes and the Danes, that wasn't even on our list. You know, so it can be the number one in most countries, but for us, we don't even mention it. And what was the number one in in the Nordic countries, and especially in Norway, which was like the highest was to teach children independence. And for me, that makes sense. And that tells something about how we are different and if you want to teach children independence, that means that you have to give them the tools so that they can operate in the world independently from you. So they have to carry with them the tools to for instance, figure out how to deal with risk. So child rearing practices in the Nordic countries, and of course I'm generalizing, is different because we try to give the children and tools, which means that when they encounter risk, also media related risk, they should know what to do, or we talk to them about these potential risks while other in other regions and other countries, a larger proportion of parents would, for instance, do what we call technical are restricted with mediation. So install filters to block out content, or survey their children or say that you cannot use this, or you can only use this if I can also see what you're doing, monitoring tools, while Nordic parents, we're not so keen on that.Nicola Witcombe:
That's really interesting. And sort of mirrors a lot of my experiences being, you know, from Britain, and then moving moving to Denmark. Just going back to that survey, then was it 2011? The data that you were looking at there, did that also include different types of regulation? National regulation, or EU regulation? Or was it mainly sort of statistics on behavior and so on?Elisabeth Staksrud:
Yeah. So this one survey that you kids online survey from 2011, was a survey where we representative survey in 25 countries where we interviewed parents and children from the same family and children between 9 and 16. And then we have replicated that survey quite recently, which was, of course, all very interesting, given that mobile phones and social media has exploded since then. But we also do, in this network and what I work a lot with is this regulation and policy related issues. So we have different studies in this network, where we do this and look at that. And of course, what is fascinating now is that one tries to in this field, to have this overall EU approach. Saying that we should have cross platform, cross country, cross region, regulation, or media and protection of minors in particular. But given that countries and cultures, and parents and children are so different, I'm sort of wondering if this is possible. And you asked me about my favorite sort of project is - and I think that I recently did this amazing, interesting project, which was sort of a labor of love, where a colleague and I compared over a five year period, all the movies that were rated by movie rating agencies in five countries, Norway, Denmark, France, UK, and Japan. So we looked at the rationale in these countries and the 500 movies and looked at what kind of age recommendations have been given. And you should think that if it is about protection of minors, that these would be the same, because, you know, children should perhaps be children everywhere. But they were not. I mean, there was like almost no agreement. And the French and the UK never agreed, and everybody discusses what is harmful for children. So media content, and how we approach and how we approach risk in terms of children is extremely culturally dependent, which I find fascinating.Nicola Witcombe:
And are you are you able to say that generally the age was lower in the north, the Nordic countries, Norway and Denmark, or it wasn't as sort of obvious as that?Elisabeth Staksrud:
Well, for this study, we found that those who disagreed the most we have a hypothesis that Japan being through a cultural outlier would be very different. But the biggest disagreement is between the UK and France, and the biggest agreement is between Denmark and Norway. But even there, there was some disagreement, but still, and the most liberal, we're definitely France. And we have we can see that movies that were rated adult or or 18 by the UK would be given allowed for all in France. And for instance, and in the UK, very often, one will cite foul language as a reason for a higher H rating. This is almost never mentioned in the other countries.Nicola Witcombe:
No, that's very interesting. Super, going back to comparing the regulation in this area, are you able to, maybe not from those particular studies that you've mentioned, but generally draw any general generalizations about Norway, Denmark, or the Nordic countries compared to other areas in the world?Elisabeth Staksrud:
Well, it's hard. As a media scholar, it's hard because we're now in a position where, before you had these national broadcasters, you had your national radio, you had your national newspapers, things were easy. We didn't sort of get all types of influences and TV from all kinds of the world. We started with satellite TV, that made regulation a bit harder, but still manageable. But now with Netflix and all these global platforms and social media, it is harder. But what I can say is that, at least my impression, and also having been part of, and being an expert, involved in some of these policy development discussions, both in the EU and in the European Council, and different places is that we, as the Nordic countries, perhaps more often emphasise, the balance of children's rights in this. So not just the protection rights, but also the participatory rights, which is extremely important. So children's rights are not only about protection, and children like to participate and engage, they have freedom of expression, they should be allowed access to relevant material and information as adults. And this balancing act is important. And I think that we, in the Nordic countries, are, I shouldn't say that we are better because that doesn't make sense. But at least we are used to thinking about this balance in every aspects of regulating children's lives. And we also bring that to the table when we talk about media content.Nicola Witcombe:
Brilliant. Yes. And I guess there's this backdrop that is on the cutting edge of regulation as well, you know, as soon as you've regulated that regulation is out of date. I mean, how do media scholars try and cope with the mismatch between how long it takes to regulate in these areas? And you know, how fast it's moving and developing? And is it even possible to keep up?Elisabeth Staksrud:
But I think the role for us as researchers and as media scholars is often as we usually do, and art is being critical. So we are not often the ones that are doing the regulation. And perhaps we would also wish to be asked for, for advice, because this is what we sort of think about all the time. But I think our role is often to say, "oh, this is not going to work". Or "you should think about this". And then of course, we see that that some of this regulation needs to be on a general level, it needs to be on the principle level, but it cannot be too specific, because there's always going to be a new kind of app, a new kind of situation, a new kind of thing that we didn't think about before that will sort of come in and ruin the story, or the regulations.Nicola Witcombe:
And I guess what you're saying in a way is that the differences between cultures, and perhaps even individual families or groupings in nations as well, means that it's slightly up to personal choice, how people deal with their children, and what they what they watch, and what they don't watch. And I guess that is then difficult to regulate, if it's ultimately up to personal choice?Elisabeth Staksrud:
Yes. And that's well, and then you go straight into sort of this big, also theoretical academic discussion of "Is this a good thing?". Most parents we know this also from our empirical studies feel overwhelmed. You know, this is too much. It's too complicated. We want advice, we want to be helped and in the Nordic countries, perhaps more than others were used to the government, aiding us, helping, taking care. I mean, we used to, at least in Norway, when we when I grew up, and we watch TV, I mean, my parents would know that I would be safe in front of the TV as long as they took me away from the TV before nine o'clock, because after that adult programming might start, but there was this watershed rule. That sense of security is and help from the state is sort of lost. And we are now perhaps in what I've written about this, and it's sort of this struggle of the of the late modernity, where everything I mean, everything is like Ulrich Beck writes about risk society, and it's become this institutionalized individualization, where you have no choice but to actually choose, you have to make decisions all the time, also about things you don't necessarily know anything about. And if it goes wrong, the responsibility is with you, as a parent, Oh, you didn't manage your children's online lives properly, you're a bad parent. But you know, with all these overwhelming demands, and that is hard, so people turned for advice. And there is now I think, we talked about regulation, there's a market of advice going on. Some is research based, some comes from policy, some comes from moral decisions or ideas, some are religious, and then parents have to choose which advice to choose, which makes it even more complicated, because who do you trust? And in this lies the whole, I guess, theoretical and empirical interest in my research.Nicola Witcombe:
So let's turn now to the project to Oslo University called Living The Nordic model. What are the values that are sort of traditionally considered as inherent to a Nordic upbringing?Elisabeth Staksrud:
So it's hard because being a Norwegian myself and having been born and raised here, and I think that's one of the ideas of our project is that our values are so integrated, that we might not even be able to see them. We might not even be able to see how they're different. So I realized this, I had a international research meeting in Oslo and we were like, all these international researchers, and we were walking across campus towards a place to eat lunch, and we passed a kindergarten, a daycare center. And this was in the winter. AndNicola Witcombe:
A lot of academics talk about things when we passed it, all the other researchers from non Nordic countries, they just stopped and said "What is this?". And of course, you had all these trolleys standing outside with babies in them sleeping, and there was no adult to be seen. And I tried to said, "Yes, yes, there are actually children in those", and never thought about that being weird or inappropriate, or, you know. So that was a waking point. And then the next research meeting we had was in Italy, and we were at a restaurant very late in the evening. And there were all these small children running around. And then I reacted, my Italian colleagues said that, but I said, if this was in Norway, people would be upset, small children should all you know should go to bed, and they should have their candy only in the Saturdays. So we have these sort of inherited and ways of thinking about child rearing practices where we think this is the best way of raising a child or the healthiest way. And what we wanted to explore and in an interdisciplinary way is okay, so we have upbringing in what is perceived as being, you know, the happiest region, the happiest countries in the world. But what if you're not that happy? Or what if you want to do an alternative child rearing practice? or if you don't subscribe to the narrative that the people working in the daycare center says when they decide that they want to place your baby outdoors when it's -5 degrees, what happens then? Do we have any blind spots? You know, questions that we said we need a project to figure this out. attacking the Nordic model, and they tend to be forces that are from outside, like, for example, globalization, migration, and perhaps digital technology could also be included in that category. I mean, have you used that sort of visualization in the project? And can you relate to it? Or do you agree with it?Elisabeth Staksrud:
The course that I'm working on, we haven't really looked at it from that angle, I think we've rather have tried to identify what is the core thing that holds it together? What is it thatholds? That makes it so different in terms of child rearing practices, and you know, in the media from other countries. And we always see how, in many aspects Norway or the Nordic countries become outliers, we tried to figure out what is this about what's going on here? I mean, we're not always the outlier. But frequently. And I think we've seen it in many of our surveys, and we see it now. And our colleagues keep commenting on it. Those that are from other countries, that there's something about the trust. So that we trust the what the glue that holds it together, is the trust. Parents trust the authorities, in terms of their children's welfare, we trust the school system, we trust that things will be okay and we trust each other. Which means that we also, for instance, when we publish pictures of our children online, we trust that they will not be abused by anyone.Nicola Witcombe:
Yes. And that's that's often covered a lot in the popular media, as well as being a sort of key aspect of the Nordic countries. Let's turn then to the sort of latest leg of the project, which has been looking at COVID. Could you tell me a little bit more about that? Presumably, you don't have any concrete findings yet. But is there any sort of anecdotal evidence from perhaps within Norway, in Norway that you could share?Elisabeth Staksrud:
So together with colleagues from many other countries, we did a survey in 11 countries where we talk to both children and parents, both qualitative and quantitative. And we are in the process of analyzing but again, what what we have so far, we can see, for instance, we have a school report on how it was with digital school or the school during the first lockdown period in spring 2020. And it's very interesting because Denmark and Sweden were not part of this survey, but Norway was and one of the questions that were asked to all parents was, if they worried that their children's school performances would suffer, because of this lockdown, and because all the complications and COVID. And in most countries, parents were really worried about this, except in Norway. Very, very few Norwegian parents expressed any kind of worry that their child's school performances would suffer. Actually, Norway was the only country where children were more worried than their parents. And even their children were not very worried, but still more than their parents. And when we discussed this, we, I think, in the research group from, you know, across many countries, everybody thought is there something wrong with the method? Is there something wrong with the question? But I guess our conclusion, again, was that, you know, as one of my colleagues said, "you guys must really trust the government, you must really trust your schools".Nicola Witcombe:
I think that's true. And I've experienced the similar thing here in Denmark, what they call "ndundervisning", sort of emergency teaching, it's not a full timetable at all, they take a much more sort of laid back approach. And that, you know, is much more sort of long term is much more about relationships, and about, they're often more concerned about the kids missing one another and the social interaction and the mental health of the kids rather than their subject based knowledge. But I think it reflects the kind of more the emphasis put on school is somewhere where you're socialized, as well as the subject based knowledge, but as opposed to a focus on individual targets and achieving specific things if you see what I mean.Elisabeth Staksrud:
Yeah and I mean, we find this in this study again, the same as you describing that parents are much more worried about their children's social life and the social interaction and missing out with friends. And we see this also in other studies we've done before COVID, that that's the big worry. The social aspect is the worry of the parents that their children is going to be isolated or, or have no friends or being bullied, this is so much more worrying than not doing well in school. And of course, perhaps in Nordic countries, more than other countries, or some other countries that that we know that there is the safety net. It's not like you have to compete to get into school there is you know, education is free. Also on the higher level, there's always an education that you can have. And if you don't get a job, there is a safety net, you will have to live on the streets. And that of course helps. But I should say that it's interesting that you mentioned Denmark, because we also notice in terms of schools, and I have colleagues that are school researchers and actually said that they have really pointed this out that in Norway, it has been framed this lockdown and this COVID teaching as homeschooling while maybe it's more, and that's where Denmark and Norway differ, in Denmark, it's called emergency teaching, which is a different way of thinking about it. It's not so cozy if it's emergency teaching. And maybe that's a fairer term to use. But that's where Norway and Denmark have differed in their narrative about what this is. If I can just add because one of the things we also find is, of course, that going back to the digital, we are very wired up, and so are our kids. So for us to say we let's go digital, many children have their own laptop or their Padlets from school already. So that makes it easier to interact with the teacher. But if you don't have that, you might not see your teacher all week, maybe once a week. So there's the haves and the have nots in terms of digital affordances became extremely evident during COVID. So better homeschooling, or better emergency schooling, would sort of pend on this digital aspect that being wired up, having access, having the equipment, having a teacher that would log on Teams, or Zoom or you know any type of platform and actually interact with the students make all the differenceNicola Witcombe:
So I've always found this concept of "dannelse", as they call it in Danish, which is is kind of a sort of combination of education and formation and so on. And that particular expression has recently taken on a new dimension, and they've been talking about "digital dannelse" to instill the skills in children about how to use digital tools. And I wonder if you could say a few words about that.Elisabeth Staksrud:
In the field of digital media, we've seen a lot of discussion on this. And for me, digital cultivation of the digital dominance is different from those technical like we often talk about media competence, and media literacy. Media literacy is a discussion, it encompasses and includes both more technical skills, social skills, but it also has with it this dominance or this cultivation. And it's something that we, especially perhaps in meeting risks online, and realizing that were before one would consider media challenges and media risks as something that had to do with content. So you would see something on a movie or on TV and then there would be in reaction and you would know that online media hasNicola Witcombe:
And are you able to say what Norwegian all these other dimensions where children themselves are active participants they interact with others there's this huge social dimension. So cultivation of how you approach other people, content, how you cultivate your way of going around becomes extremely important because that also might negates risk. If you know how, if you have the skills to social skills and mobile skills and technical skills and and creative skills that will help you also when you meet risk so that risk don't lead to harm, but rather to resilience and growth and all these things that we want our children to have and learn. schools or parents are doing to sort of allow digital dannelse to flourish?Elisabeth Staksrud:
I think there is a still sort of a struggle between what researchers and what school authorities think should be done. And still there are some fights between, you know, as it all what is between scholars, and what should this encompass, and what is done in schools and what parents do. And all parents are different, and schools are different, and teachers are different. So, not all children might get the same sort of set of cultivation of skills, but I think that, at least for Norway's part, having many years ago said the digital skills, being able to interact digitally, is a core fundamental skill at par with reading and writing. And being able to do calculus and express oneself verbally. And putting it on the same level has definitely helped. Because in the school system, then digital skills and cultivation has to be integrated in all subjects in a form.Nicola Witcombe:
On the other side of the coin, parents are worried about the length of time often that their children are on a screen, have these various studies that you have been involved with and project groups you've been involved with? Have they looked about that anxiety of parents? And could you shed any light on that?Elisabeth Staksrud:
Yeah, so parental worry, that's a big thing. And it's interesting that you asked, because that is something that that we really started to work extensively on for the past year. So we started to look into this parental worry, what is it about? Is it worry, for instance, that is based in what the children's actual behavior, or something that has to do with a child? Or is it a more generalized worry that come out of, you know, I didn't grow up with this, I don't understand this as well myself, or that you read in the papers or your field. What we see is that in terms of harm, and in terms of children that have, for instance, a behavior online, or excessive use that is not wanted, time in itself, like time spent online is not a good measure in research. It's not how much time you spend online is what you do with that time. And given that internet is such a complex place where you can both do your homework, you can do school, you can read the news, you can listen to music, you can be creative, you can hang out with your friends, you can be entertained, you can watch a movie, I mean, all these things and more, makes it perhaps a little bit unfair to think about like screen as we do with the TV as something passive where you are a more passive recipient of content, it's much more interaction. So we've measured this, so what I can say to worried parents is that at least from a research perspective, it's not how much time that is something that perhaps one should worry about, but rather, if that is something that ruins for other important things. So if children go without sleeping, or eating, or you know, things like that, that is a challenge. But we also see from from our statistical surveys that some of the children that use the internet the most or have screentime, the most, for instance, some of the gamers are also the most social people. The same that goes out and play football and do other things, which often is something that parents hold to a higher standard on the hierarchy of things we think our children should do. And it's interesting to see how parents now say, I want you not to go, you know, don't be on YouTube, or don't play games, wouldn't you rather come and sit with me and watch TV? Which, for the previous generation, that would be you know, don't watch so much TV, couldn't you rather come with me and listen to the radio? So it's sort of a generational aspect here also. But I usually say to parents and teachers who wonder; if you want to worry about something time is I mean, you should always make sure that your life is balanced. But time in itself is not what I would focus my energy on worrying about. I have lots of suggestions for things you can worry about more. And because those are the things we know lead to harm for most children, such as digital bullying, sexual harassment, online experiences. And those children who visit harmful user generated content such as Pro suicide, pro self harm, pro anorexia sites, I would start, I would start with that on top of my worry list and not be so worried about time.Nicola Witcombe:
It's good to get things a little bit in perspective. So for example, if if there was a policymaker listening to this podcast, I mean, there's a wealth of information out there, would you want to say anything specific to policymakers, or where aware this information is available?Elisabeth Staksrud:
We always ask parents and children "Do you need more information?" Or "is there something you need?" And if you do it, "where would you prefer habit from?". And again, and again, we see that what children are saying is that "I would really like for my parents to engage more, I would like to have, you know, more information on different things", but preferably parents which is not happening now, usually, they would go to friends and parents say, "I would like to have qualified information, I would like it to come from the government". This is like very Nordic, I would like the government to give me the information. And I would like it to come through schools. That's the number one. I mean, it can come from other sources. But I wanted to be sort of the quality secured, I don't want all these different sources, I wanted to come as we are used to through government official, like help me give me the tools to raise my digital child and make the right decisions and knowing what to think about. But please give me the information through a channel which I trust, which is typically the school. And it has to be, I have to say, research based, of course,Nicola Witcombe:
Of course, I appreciate that you have written on the things that you mentioned that parents should worry about, you know, like digital rape, and you know, digital crimes, simply, I'm just wondering whether we can sort of sum those up.Elisabeth Staksrud:
Yeah, so I think, for most people, or most parents, and also having grown up ourselves, the narrative of the stranger, the stranger danger is very, you know, that uncertainty, the risk that we cannot control, or foresee, that is really scary. And that transcend into internet. But from what we know, most risks that are online does not lead to harm. Children can cope with them, especially if they have skills. But of those risks that lead to harm, most of them are not, you know, from that stranger is something that is created from people children know, or through their own behavior. So what we for instance, know is things that lead to harm. And sometimes long term harm is things like digital bullying, which very often is a result of peer relationships that comes from the offline world, typical school relations, people in your same class or in the same school. Things like sexting with some children. And this is important, children, youth are different. And it's not like one size fits all. So we have lots of statistics and research that show for instance, sending sexual messages, which is something that parents will worry about, and often say that this is, you know, horrible and don't do it. Many children or use, I should say think that this is perfectly fine. Not only that, do they find it as not problematic, they enjoy it, especially the boys. So when young girls think that this is extremely uncomfortable and need help, older boys will say, "Well, it's the best thing that happened all week". So that gives cause to think that children are different and different ages and genders and types of children need different care in terms of managing risk. And that's important to remember that you have a child that is involving and what we know works is to talk to your child. If they trust you to come with their problems before they escalate and be huge problems. That is very good.Nicola Witcombe:
What are some of the key research questions or issues that you would like to see explored in the next few years?Elisabeth Staksrud:
So I think that in the risk field, I think it's important that we recognize that children also have a right to be heard in research. Most population studies when we talk about the population, especially in representative studies, does not include children under the age of 16. So I think it's vitally important to have longitudinal panel studies with the same children over time to understand how their digital lives and well being changes over time. And lots of the questions and worries that parents and politicians have, we cannot answer because we don't know. Because we only know about here now and not about changes. So that's important. And I also think that a stronger focus on research ethics and what it means when we also have, you know, digital data, we have big data, we have algorithms, we have the possibility to compile different types of data that might make us able as researchers to look into people's lives in a different way than we could before. Makes research ethics even more important. So those would be my top two.Nicola Witcombe:
As you know, I interviewed Janne Holmen from Uppsala University last week. And he's particularly interested in education and a term that he's borrowed from cultural geography, I think called mental maps. And you know, how children's mental maps are formed by textbooks schooling and other things. And he would very much like to know whether there's any research or, or whether you yourself have looked into what kind of worlds young people and children are constructing now, as opposed to a few years ago, perhaps, within relation to digital media? How they can orientate themselves in these abstract worlds, as well as of course, you know, lots of different layers of of the of the real world?Elisabeth Staksrud:
Ah, good question. So, I think maybe my answer would be, I would challenge the outgoing position, I think of saying that, that the internet is an abstract world other than the real world. For children and youth, and people having grown up with digital media and online lives, it's no difference doesn't matter. If you speak to your friend on, you know, on social media, or through the mobile phones or face to face. The point is, you speak with your friend, you're interacting with your friend. So when the question is, how are they able to orient in this world, I would say very well. It's like, if you grow up with this, and of course, there are some banal answers, like you could say, they have a more global overview because they're able to get information from a lot of more sources than we were ever before the internet. But they're also good at cultivating this digital skills and this 'dannelse' as we talked about which is what is going to enable them to actually separate and orient themselves.Nicola Witcombe:
Thank you very much for that. So now it's your turn to put a question to the next person I'm interviewing. And she is professor of comparative literature at the University of Iceland Gunnrunn Gumundsdttir.Elisabeth Staksrud:
So one of the things that I've looked at earlier is how representation of children in the media changes over time. And it becomes the sort of imagery of the time we're living in how children are represented. So for instance, in the 70s movies, they were always protesting for peace and then the 80s movies, they were always abused, and victims of incest or something. So I was just wondering if being a professor in comparative literature, if she can say something about how children are represented in literature over time? or perhaps even in the Nordic context? and if that actually differs from how children are represented elsewhere in literature.Nicola Witcombe:
Well, thanks very much, Elizabeth. We've had a really interesting and wide ranging discussion.Elisabeth Staksrud:
Thank you for inviting me.Nicola Witcombe:
To sum up, then, Elisabeth answered some key questions that parents and regulators alike struggle to make sense of. And this is my interpretation of some of the points she was making. Screentime is not harmful per se, but there are risks, which caregivers can help to alleviate but not eliminate completely. By being open about discussing their children's online lives. The Nordic way of protecting children from online harm appears to reflect the general Nordic approach to risk in childhood. Try not to shield them totally from it, but teach them how to deal with it so they become resilient and can be independent when the time comes. But this approach probably does not fit every culture or nation. When norms of child rearing can be different. And although I suspect it is too early to speculate, the pandemic has of course, had a major impact on the Nordic countries, Norway and Denmark included. But approaches to dealing with online schooling and kids online lives have perhaps been slightly different than elsewhere. Not only due to a greater level of affluence and access to computers, but also because of societal attitudes towards child rearing. People tend to be generally more concerned with their children's social well being than subject based targets than some other countries and concerned with the cultivation of the individual's ability to deal with risk. You've been listening to an Nordics.info podcast. Thanks go to Elisabeth Straksrud and to our very own research hub, Reimagining Norden in Evolving World (ReNEW) and our funders, Nordforsk. If you'd like to find out more, please visit Nordics.info